Sunday, August 23, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 16 - CUBA

I owe my introduction to delicious Cuban food to my good friend Gloria who always treated me like a part of her family. So when we decided to eat Cuba this week, I knew exactly what I was looking forward to. 

Felix Continental Cafe is located in the quaint Plaza Square in the city of Orange and has been serving authentic Cuban and Spanish food since the 70s. Their menu seems to have outgrown their small dining area that spills out to the sidewalk in front.

Cubans love their bread and that is what is served first - warm and ready to melt the accompanying butter pieces and your taste buds. Cuban bread is similar to french baguette with slightly different ingredients and baking method.

You know by now that we always try to pick the authentic beverages from the country we are eating and this time we found two. Materva is a sweet bubbly soda made from Yerba Mate plant. It certainly is easy on the palate like other mainstream sodas.

Malta, on the other hand, is definitely an acquired taste. This non-alcoholic beverage is brewed from barley in a similar way as beer and sometimes has other grains added to the recipe. Though I liked this new taste, I chose to trade it in with Rick's soda since he has already acquired its taste.

When we have food from south of U.S. border, we always get empanadas to see the subtle differences from country to country. Empanadita Criolla is the Cuban version of the pie with ground meat filling and a thinner crust. 

Cuba is famous for their sandwiches and their bread is specially designed for this toasted bliss dripping with cheese, aptly called Cuban Sandwich!

As a side dish we had a full plate of Casamiento, a beautifully colored rice and bean dish garnished with bright red bell pepper pieces.

I was too full to eat the Arroz con Pollo - a combination of chicken and saffron rice, but caved in to the temptation for the few pieces of Maduros that came with it, for I sure have a weakness for plantains.

Our first dessert choice of Guava Shells in syrup with cream cheese was not available so we picked the other thing on the menu that we did not know. Turns out Natilla was a kind of simple custard made with milk and eggs topped with cinnamon.

We love Felix Continental Cafe not only for their genuinely delicious food but the simple and comforting ambiance. I am making a wish right now to live (almost) around the corner from this restaurant and the lively square it resides in.

¡Buen apetito!

Monday, August 17, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 15 - PHILIPPINES

Without any exceptions, every single Filipino I've known in my life has been the kindest and thoughtful people I ever met. Whether they know you or not, they will always do everything in their power to please you and put a smile on your face.

Last Sunday we experienced this very kindness at the Kapamilya Restaurant where they serve authentic food from Philippines. Unlike other weekends where we time our meal in mid-afternoon, we walked into this smallish grocery/restaurant in Fountain Valley at around noon expecting to see at least a few ex-pats dining, but there was no one around. The door was open and the neon OPEN sign was turned on but nobody in sight. We inched our way to the back of the store and made it to the kitchen door inside which two ladies were slaving away making huge trays of food. The younger one came out to greet us and told us that they only serve breakfast on Sundays. Oh no, not again! BUT, she said they are cooking for some catering events and they'd be happy to share some of the food that was already ready and more than what was ordered.

She disappeared into the kitchen to prepare our food, and left us to explore the refrigerator for some authentic Filipino beverages. The only one we found was the Soursop Guyabano, a very refreshing lightly sweetened fruity drink.

Filipino cuisine is heavily influenced by Malay, Spanish, Chinese, and American cooking styles and tastes, adopting their local ingredients. She brought our food in to-go containers and we set down at one of the tables to enjoy the generous portions of Caldereta, Menudo, and Beef Stew served with rice.

While looking for beverages earlier, in one of the fridges I found a peculiar looking stuffed somethings and asked the girl helping us what those were. Sumang Moron is a pudding like dessert made from rice flour, coconut milk, chopped peanuts, and chocolate wrapped in banana leaves that are wilted on fire. While we were working on the main dishes, she took our dessert to the kitchen to warm them up for us.

The Filipino food has comforting and satisfying qualities that put the same kind of smile as their people do on your face. During the time we were at the restaurant, patrons came to shop and they all told us how much they love the food from this humble place. There is so much more on their menu that we would like to try some other day.

Tayo'y magsikain

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 14 - LEBANON

I love it when we end up in a small restaurant operated by a family and there are no other diners. It creates the perfect opportunity to converse with the owners and learn about the contents of food and sometimes more about the culture or the science of the food they serve.

Though distant at first, the owner lady at Cafe Matinee Lebanese Restaurant quickly warmed up to us when we asked her if they made their own sausages and told us "if we made the bread, everything we serve would be homemade!" She told us how they make their olives, and the benefits of sesame that is abundantly present in almost every dish they serve. She said "Sesame is good for your brain!"

The menu was once again filled with many items we wanted to try, but first came the drink orders of Jalab (date juice) and mulberry juice.

They added salad, olives, and pickled turnip to our appetizer order, turning our table to a colorful food bazaar.

Don't be fooled by the name "Fool" for our first appetizer was a delicious blend of fava beans seasoned with garlic and fresh lemon juice, garnished with italian parsley and paprika.

Second appetizer Jibne Zaatar was pita bread topped with white Lebanese cheese and  the Zaatar mix that has oregano and sesame seeds. This seemingly simple dish was on par with many a pizzas we had elsewhere.

The third appetizer was a finger-licking delicious lamb sausage called Makanek topped with diced onions and tomatoes.

The non-homemade pita bread and the homemade olives vanished with the appetizers long before our main dish arrived.

Thankfully we had only one main dish - Chicken Shawarma. Unlike other places this shawarma was not made on a skewer. The owner lady had every right to be very proud of this tender chicken dish they served with rice pilav with roasted orzo.

The dessert showed the heavy influence of Ottoman Empire on this Middle Eastern country. Keunefe is a syrupy dessert made with string dough and cheese topped with pistachios, and just one slice was more than enough to top off the delectable meal we had.

We bade farewell to the owner couple and promised to come back to try more of their homemade food. And that we will!

Bil hana!

Monday, August 3, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 13 - U.S.A.

What better place to eat a country's food than somebody's home where everything is freshly made in the best way possible! 

We were in Wisconsin last weekend, visiting Rick's brother Dan and his lovely wife Kari. Not only did they share their happy home with us but they made us the best tasting American food with a wide variety including sausages made from bear meat Dan brought back from his hunting trips, and fish fries made from Crappies they caught in nearby lakes. Of all the mouth-watering meals we had with them, I was able to document one breakfast which we decided to share with you as part of our American experience.

Dan was already in the kitchen cooking when I walked in following the alluring smell of hash-browns and breakfast sausages sizzling on the stove.

While the food was cooking, we set the table and filled glasses with fresh coffee and orange juice as these are staples of American breakfast (yes I did take a sip or two before I took the picture). :)

We sat down when the French Toasts were ready and served in several small towers of golden goodness. We topped them with butter and syrup and added the best kind of cheerful conversation to make them even sweeter.

I was determined not to leave the table before I had a (small) slice of Kari's breakfast dessert which I did not have any room the previous day after eating delicious Quiches of two kinds. 

Time truly flies when you are in the best of company sharing good food and conversation. We hiked, canoed, played kubb, visited the zoo where giant turtles made us giggle, and had a magical evening under the blue moon making s'mores around a bonfire in the backyard surrounded with twinkling fireflies.

This was and will remain the best of our adventure eating 52 countries. Thank you Kari and Dan for being a part of our lives. Here's to sharing many more meals and adventures!

Bon Appetit!

PS. I'm told the American equivalent for "bon appetit" is a loud belch and undoing your pants' buttons if you enjoy your meal! :)